Tour of Northern Italy’s Pasta and Sauces

These past two weekends I enjoyed giving seminars to the customers of Adams Fairacre Farms in Poughkeepsie and in Wappinger Falls.  During the dreary winter months in January and February Adams Fairacre Farms gives the customers an opportunity to learn and enjoy some interesting subjects!  I was invited to share what I know as well.  So I gladly jumped in the fun.  I decided to bring everyone on a tour of Northern Italy’s pasta and sauces.  Not only did I set the mood with Italian music I set up the props.  On display was a painting of Tuscany set on an easel.  The table was set with an vivid Italian table cloth set with grapevine baskets filled with oranges.  Incidentally my grandfather made the huge basket from the vines from his vineyard. A separate table was set up with my portable kitchen.  My wonderful husband and daughter helped serve while lots of customers came to experience the fun event.  It was so fun that I decided to share with you all the fun facts and experience of this Tour of Northern Italy Pasta and Sauces.  But let me start off with some of my observations with our American pasta culture versus Italian.  Let me say I am an American in an Italian restaurant family so I am fully aware of our American pasta culture.  But when I go to Italy the differences are so obvious.  Is one wrong and the other right? No!  It’s just a cultural difference.  But it’s fun to compare!

Tour of Northern Italy’s Tour of Pasta and Sauces Seminar @Adamsfairacrefarms in Wappingers, NY

Some Pasta Facts

I will start off with talking about some misconceptions we Americans have about pasta.

 Americans seem to think that pasta to be good must be made freshly by hand.

    1.  Best way is made by an Italian grandmother using a rolling pin

    2. or by a machine that some of us have in our kitchen

    3.  or ready-made fresh pasta that we can find right here at Adams.

Americans think of dry pasta or in Italian (pasta secca)  found in boxes and plastic bags as substandard.

But no! In Italy most Italians eat dry pasta that comes out of a box! An exception is the northern region!  In Northern Italy fresh pasta is quite popular and most families make their own.

Fresh Pasta Facts

Northern Italy uses more fresh pasta than Southern Italy

Fresh pasta is usually made from softer wheats, though some durum semolina can be mixed in, and some is made with just durum, but that takes a lot of strength to work with.

In the south, some fresh pasta is made with just flour and water, but in the north it is almost always made with flour, eggs, salt and water. If it is to be used for stuffing, as in ravioli, a little milk is sometimes added.

6 major differences with the way we make pasta in the US

  1. We overcook the pasta

      According to Italians the biggest mistake that we Americans make is overcooking the pasta. We all know what aldente is. But pasta must be served as soon as it is drained. It gets a little crazy at my house when we drain the pasta.  My husband dishes out pasta.  I sauce it.  The kids pass out the dishes.  We must be fast!  Pasta is very important.

2. Cook in too little water

But another problem with making pasta is using too little water.  A pound of pasta should be cooked in 5 quarts of salted water vigorously boiling.   Too little water stews the pasta making it gummy and overcooked. Believe me, I too am guilty of this.  Sometimes I am too lazy to go to the cupboard and get the big pasta potout thinking it’s just my husband and I.  It’s a big mistake.  The pasta doesn’t cook evenly and the pasta sticks together.

Cooking the perfect pasta.

  1. Make sure its 5 quarts of water per pound of pasta. 
  2. Bring to a boil.
  3.  Add 2 tablespoons of salt.
  4. Place pasta in boiling salted water
  5. It will quickly come to a boil again.
  6. When pasta is done.  5-6 minutes (more for thicker pasta less for thinner like spaghettini or angel hair.
  7. Remove and drain but not too thoroughly.  Save 2 ladles of pasta water

3. Adding Oil to water

When you add oil to the cooking water for pasta will only make the pasta slippery and harder for the sauce to get absorbed into the pasta. Your pasta will lack the flavor of the sauce.

 

4. Huge Portions

When it comes to eating pasta, Italians are very measurement conscious. And it’s a very easy formula to follow: 100 grams (3-1/2 ounces) or less of pasta per person.

It is never a heaping portion like one you would expect in the States.” In the ’90s, Los Angeles Italian restaurants routinely served pasta in giant bowls, each portion enough to feed three or four.

The point of the dish is not the sauce but the pasta.  There should be just enough sauce to coat each strand lightly. There shouldn’t be puddles of sauce congealing in the bottom of the dish.

 5. Oversauce the pasta

A way to get the most flavor into the pasta about a minute or 2 before it’s done strain it.  Saving a ladle of pasta water then toss it in with the sauce and a ladle of the pasta water.  Let it finish cooking on the stove. And then quickly serve it.  This is called “pasta saltata in padella”.  But some further explanation of the sauce.  They don’t call it sauce or salsa.  They refer to it as condimento or condiment.  The condimento is just about a ¼ cup per serving

6.  Too much cheese on pasta

      Cheese is just a scant teaspoonful per serving.  In Italy the waiters come and quickly grate a little cheese on the pasta.  In our restaurant if the waitstaff weren’t attending each table to grating the cheese they would go and try to sprinkle a teaspoon of cheese.  But typically, the waitstaff we be grating and dumping loads of cheese on top of pasta!

Authentic Italian cooking is an art of simplicity and balance. It’s recognizing that less is often so much better than more.  AS I often talk about in my seminars.  Just like my sauces the 825 MAIN.  It’s very simple.  But it’s about the quality of the ingredients.  I am very picky about the ingredients.  As you will find out as I continue…… And as we try the different pasta and sauce for each region in the northern part of Italy you will begin to understand what I am talking about.

 So, let’s get to the fun part.  I am going to cover 4 northern regions of Italy.  I am picking a pasta that is popular in that area with a sauce or I should say condimento of the area.

Northern Italy Pasta Map

Piemonte

Agnolotti/Tortelloni

Most commonly crimped, square-shaped and stuffed with meat, agnolotti (or ‘priest hats’) is the primary pasta of Piedmont, in the northwestern region of Italy. Located in the lush-green foothills of the Alps and the Apennines, and surrounded by a wooded wilderness, Piemontese cuisine is typically tinged with the musky aromas of its mountainous backdrop. Perfect for poaching, agnolotti can also be added to a broth, but are best pan-fried in a sage and butter sauce and finished off with a dusting of white truffle.

For this recipe I use Rana brand of Tortelloni.  They are a fresh pasta found in the dairy section of Adams.  I used the Cheese Tortelloni and also the Spinach and Roasted Garlic Tortelloni.  I have to say I was partial to the Cheese one. I put it in a very simple butter/sage sauce.  The recipe follows. But the highlight of this dish is the shaving of truffles. In the Poughkeepsie Adams Fairacre Farms I was able to order a fresh black truffle that came from Burgundy, France.  While in Wappingers I had available the revered White Truffles that were sold in jar.  The truffle products are sold in the pasta section in the Wappinger store.  If you would like to read about some Truffle Facts continue on while the recipe follows.

Truffles

Truffle is a fungal tuber from Burgundy, France

     Truffles are quite unique in feature that separates them from other common fungi. Truffle has a rounded, below the earth fruiting body that can be lobed, with shallow to deep furrows and has yellowish, tan to dark brown skin. The interior is solid, white, marble like in white species and black in black species with narrow, white veins that tend to radiate from the base. Mature specimens possess a pungent, rich smell.

     Several species of tuber (truffle) mushrooms found naturally in the dense forests of Northern Hemisphere, especially Italy, Balkans, and France.

     The black perigord (French black) truffle (Tuber melanosporum) is mainly found the wooden forests of Southern Europe. They feature mottling pattern with streaks of white veins. They are the most sought after by the chefs all over the world for its very aromatic flesh.

      Other important black species are black summer truffle (T. aestivum) and Burgundy truffles (T. uncinatum) are also prized for their culinary values.

     The white truffles (T. magnatum) are the largest of truffles and found in the Northern Italy. White truffles are also highly accolade by the chefs for their powerful fragrance likened to mould, garlic, and smell of cheese.

     Some other species include those found in the US such as Oregon black truffle (T. gibbosum), Oregon brown truffle are also noted for their culinary values. Pecan truffle (T. lyoni) is found in the southern part of United States near the pecan tree cultivation.

Truffle harvesting

   ruffles are grown the wild close to oak, poplar, hazelnut, elm, pecans and beech trees. Mature truffles develop odors and emit volatile organic compounds and pheromones that attract wild animals. Truffle hunters search for them from autumn to winter with the help of trained dogs in these wooded forests.  In the past, hunters used to rely on pigs to sniff out these prized discoveries. Problem was, the pigs loved to eat them. In the 70’s they stopped using pigs. These days, well-trained dogs who don’t care for the taste are used for foraging.

Reasons why Italy has best truffles

    1. IT’S THE HOME OF THE WORLD’S BEST TRUFFLES

There are dozens of varieties of truffles in the world, but Italy’s white truffle is one of the most elusive, most delicious and most expensive. It’s found only from September to December and in just the right conditions, growing on the roots of trees under layers of damp leaves and dirt. 

     2. IT’S ALSO THE HOME OF THE WORLD’S MOST EXPENSIVE TRUFFLE

In 2007, two of the family’s hunters – Luciano and Cristiano Savini – unearthed a 1.28-kilogram (2-pound, 13-ounce) truffle that sold at auction for a whopping USD 330,000. That price is recognized by Guinness World Records as the most money ever paid at auction for a white truffle. You can check out a replica of the truffle at the headquarters. Fun fact: The dog that found the original was 14 years old.

White truffles are a rare delicacy: The short season for the mushrooms, the stratospheric prices ($2,000 a pound is not uncommon) and the intense aromas and flavors make this mostly something for the world’s super rich. Shaving a few grams of a white truffle on a dish such as risotto can send the price at a restaurant soaring into the triple digits.

Selection and storage

Fresh truffles are usually sold in the areas from which they are harvested. Choose firm, fleshly truffles, without bruises.

    In the markets one can choose dried truffles in airtight containers. Other novelty products such as truffle flavored sugar, salt, truffle honey, truffle oil, etc can also be found in the supermarkets. Truffles canned in water are also available in some stores.

   Eat them as soon as possible. To store, place them in the fridge fresh up to 1 week. Place cut truffles in an airtight container and cover them with Madeira or white wine. Canned truffles that are cut and covered with Madeira or a little oil for a month.

   Once at home, use them early. Place them in cool dry place in a wooden basket away from sunlight and moisture. Keep in the fridge for a few days, in a paper bag or a dish covered with a clean cloth.

Preparation and serving methods

    Truffle’s rarity in the nature makes them the most expensive items to use liberally in the dishes. Their usefulness counted just as gourmet food and to some extent as appetizer. Do not wash truffles -rub them gently with a soft brush. Cut them in slices, slivers, cubes or shaving.

Agnolotti or Tortelloni del Plin
 

Ingredients:

Package of Rana Tortelloni

1 teaspoon salt, plus more for pasta water
8-10 tablespoons butter
10 sage leaves
1 cup grated Grana Padano
1 fresh white truffle (optional!)

Procedure:

  1. Bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil. Add the fresh agnolotti/ tortelloni, stirring gently, and cook them for 3-4 minutes or until the agnolotti are bobbing on the surface of the water.
  2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Lay the sage leaves in the pan and heat until the butter is sizzling gently. Toast the leaves for about 1 minute, then remove them.
  3. Add 1 cup of water to the butter, then swirl the pan and simmer for about 2 minutes, reducing the liquid by half. Keep the sauce hot over very low heat.
  4. Drain the agnolotti and add them to the sauce in the pan. Toss and cook them for about 1 minute over medium heat until the sauce is bubbling. Remove the pan from the heat, add the grated cheese.
  5. Optional: Shave fresh white truffles over the pasta! 

Lombardia

Farfalle

Universally recognized as the ‘bow-tie’, farfalle borrows its name from the Italian word for ‘butterflies’. Despite its intricate design, this good-looking variety remains the signature pasta of the northwestern Italian region of Lombardy. Habitually blended with beetroot, spinach or squid-ink, farfalle is also available in an array of brilliant color combinations to include the vivid hues of the Italian flag. Owing to its sauce-holding-abilities, this pasta is best served with a simple tomato and basil concoction.

The Adams Fairacre Farms in Poughkeepsie has Delverde Bow ties but the Adams in Wappingers has colorful artisanal Farfalle (bowtie) Pasta called Tarall’oro.  This dish is highlighted by my own 825 MAIN Marinara!

 Farfalle ala 825 MAIN Marinara

Ingredients:

1 jar of 825 MAIN Marinara

1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves and then very thinly sliced

1 lb. dried farfalle pasta

Grated Parmagiano Reggiano cheese

Procedure:

  1. In a 10- or 11-inch sauté pan, heat the jar of 825 MAIN Marinara over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until sauce is heated. Remove from the heat.
  2. Sprinkle on the basil and stir to combine thoroughly.
  3. While the sauce is warming up, bring a large pot of abundantly salted water to a vigorous boil and cook the pasta until al dente. Drain it well.  
  4. Toss the pasta with three-quarters of the sauce and divide among individual serving bowls.
  5. Spoon a little of the remaining sauce over each serving and sprinkle on the cheese, if you like.

Emilia Romagna 

Strozzapreti: (larger version of Cavatelli)

Strozzapreti, (or ‘priest-choker’), is a hand-rolled variety of pasta from the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna. Its dubious name origin is unclear; one legend suggests that ‘Strozzapreti’ stems from the story of the gluttonous priests who choked on their pasta as a result of their insatiable appetite, another claims that housewives ‘choked’ the dough in such a rage, violent enough to ‘choke a priest’. Irregular in size and shape, strozzapreti is the larger version of cavatelli (‘little hollows’), and is made of flour, water, parmigiano-reggiano, and egg whites.

 The Cavatelli  that I used is in the frozen food section of Adams those are  made with ricotta cheese, eggs, flour, and salt.

Sauce is Adams marinara, mozzarella cheese, and grated cheese.

Cavatelli ala Adams Marinara Sauce

Ingredients:

  1 jar of Adams Marinara Sauce

1 lb. of cavatelli or if you are lucky to find the larger version called Stozzapreti

Small ball of fresh mozzarella cut into chunks

Lots of grated Parmagiana Reggiano cheese

Procedure:

  1. In a pasta pot , heat the jar of Adams Marinara sauce over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until sauce is heated. Remove from the heat.
  2.  Start a pot of salted boiling water for spaghetti.
  3. Add cavatelli/strozzapreti and cook according to directions
  4. Drain pasta saving a ladle of pasta water
  5. In pasta pot add the cavatelli adding a ladle of Adams Marinara Sauce and a ladle of pasta water.   
  6.  Add Mozzarella and grated cheese

Veneto: Venice

Venetian Bigoli –  The bigoli are a type of long pasta, which looks like a big spaghetto; they’re from Veneto, but they’re quite common and popular in the Eastern Lombardia. The name “bigoli” seems to result from the dialect term “bigàt” which means “worm” with regard to the shape of the pasta.

Bigoli in salsa  

Bigoli in salsa, long pasta cooked in a tasty fish sauce, is the only inclusion of pasta in the city’s traditional cuisine

Bigoli are a kind of pasta made with semolina flour (semola di grano tenero), salt, and water. They are like thick spaghetti, and similar to Tuscan pici or bringoli. The name is also used for a kind of wholewheat spaghetti typical to the town of Bassano del Grappa in the north of the Veneto and so these are also sometimes used. Normal spaghetti would works well if it’s all that you can find. In fact, in many Venetian restaurants today, spaghetti are served as bigoli. Most letter L ls are not pronounced in Venetian and so you will often see the word written as it’s said: bigoi.

Salsa

Salsa is the general word for sauce, but in this dish it refers to something very specific. The condiment is made from three ingredients only: white onions, water, and salted sardines or anchovies. White onions are a speciality of the town of Chioggia in the south of the Venetian lagoon. Sardines and anchovies are native to the Venetian lagoon. Although the sardine is the traditional ingredient of this dish, it really doesn’t matter which one you use. The two are very similar indeed and in Venetian have almost identical names. Sardine is sarda and anchovy sardon.

 This dish was the most time consuming.  It takes an hour for the onions to melt down before you add the anchovies.  I saved this dish for last because it is very aromatic and has a long lasting taste and I didn’t want to corrupt the tasting of the other pastas.  It’s the most different and not a popular dish in the US.  I was pleasantly surprised that the customers really enjoyed this dish!

     I also need to add that cheese if served in Venice is a huge No No!  But we are in America and we can do whatever we like!  I used La Bella fresh spaghetti for this dish since it was the most similar to Bigoli.

Bigoli in Salsa

  Ingredients:

2 white onions, finely chopped

2 TBS of extra virgin olive oil

water

25 salted sardine or anchovy fillets

1 pound of bigoli or fresh thick spaghetti

parsley, finely chopped

black pepper

 Procedure:

  1. Place the onions in a large frying with EV olive oil. 
  2. Cook on a low heat seating them until so soft that they are falling apart adding a little water so as not to color the onion. You are almost melting the onions! Takes about an hour.
  3. Finely chop the sardine/anchovy fillets and add the fish to the pan
  4.  Stir until the fish has dissolved in the into the onion mixture.
  5. Continue to cook for about five minutes.
  6. Bring a pan with 4 quarts of unsalted water to the boil.
  7. Cook the bigol/ spaghetti according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  8. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pasta to the frying pan with the sauce in it.
  9. Mix the pasta into the sauce, adding a little of the cooking water if necessary, and then serve topped with chopped parsley and plenty of ground black pepper.

Thank you for taking the journey through Northern Italy’s pasta and sauces!  Buon apetitto!!  I cant help but be Italian when I talk and talk and talk…especially with my hands!!